The worst time to figure out that you hate a new sofa is after it’s been delivered. The convenience of online shopping makes browsing easier, but when you’re buying a couch sight unseen, it’s important to do your homework. After hundreds of hours of research, including visiting three furniture factories, interviewing industry experts, and parking ourselves on nearly every sofa we’ve seen, we can tell you exactly what separates a great sofa from a future curbside donation. This guide will walk you through everything you need to know to bring home a durable—and comfortable—piece of furniture. And we recommend some worthy brands we’ve personally tested.
Finding the right sofas for your space and budget begins with deciding what type and style you want. Just as important, you’ll need to determine what size sofa will fit in your home(including through doorways, down hallways, and up stairs, among other exterior and interior obstructions). Then consider how many people you want to seat and what you should avoid (and invest in) if pets or kids will regularly use the sofa. We tell you how to check for quality construction, how much you should expect to spend, and when you can get the best deals. We’ve also put together a buying checklist that you can consult while you’re shopping to help you remember the most important details.
A sofa is one of the most expensive pieces of furniture that most people purchase, and we encourage you to try them out in person, or to buy from online companies that have generous return policies. We hope that after you read this guide, you’ll feel comfortable purchasing a sofa that will be an investment in your current and future home. And if you’re curious about why two seemingly identically styled sofas might have drastically different prices, hop over to our companion piece, Sofa Buying Advice From the People Who Design and Make Them.
Decide what type of sofa you want
Sofas and couches come in many shapes and sizes. The right one for you will depend on how much space you have, how many people you want to seat, and whether you plan to use the sofa for napping or hosting overnight guests. These are the four types you’ll generally find:
Standard sofa or couch: These generally measure between 72 and 84 inches, comfortably seating three to four people.
Loveseat: Similar to a sofa, but intended for two people, these range from 48 inches to 72 inches wide.
Sectional: A larger modular sofa consisting of two or more pieces arranged in an L- or U-shaped configuration. Apartment-size sectionals are about the same size as a standard sofa, but larger sizes can seat five or more people.
Sofa bed or daybed: A sofa bed transforms to lay out flat, offering a mattress-like surface to rest on. A daybed is essentially a sofa with more depth, and is intended for lounging comfortably stretched across its length.
Although a designer may take offense if you call their sofa a couch, or lounge chairs, in everyday use there’s no difference. Both describe a cushioned piece of furniture with a back intended to seat more than one person. “Sofa” has always implied a more formal seating arrangement for entertaining guests (and the design/retail industry favors the term), and “couch” connotes the relaxed comforts of seating that’s intended to welcome any and all.
Choose a sofa style
Regardless of how well a sofa is made, you won’t be happy with it if you don’t also love the way it looks. Narrow your search to the styles that appeal to you and that will complement your home’s decor. Below are the eight most common styles sold today.
Mid-century modern: The hallmarks of the mid-century aesthetic are a clean and minimalist structure sitting low to the floor atop unadorned metal or wooden legs.
Lawson: The “comfy jeans” of sofas, the laidback Lawson is practically synonymous with what we think of as the quintessential couch where spare change gets discovered.
English roll arm: The cushioned yet firm high-back sofa is distinguished by its low contoured arms leaning outward. This style looks best in traditional and transitional decorated spaces that have enough room not to cramp its size.